A Therapeutic Herd
Originally: “Finding PEACE”
By: Jacquelyn J. Kaschel
Founder and Executive Director of PEACE Ranch
My story begins in 1996, when I quit my job as therapist with Forest Lakes Counseling. Leaving my tidy life of being a working mother with two children, I took a 24 hour a day position with no salary, a stay at home mom to a brood that tripled in a matter of months.I am a mother to six children, four of whom were “rescued” by local authorities from severe neglect and abuse. Though my husband and I are both licensed therapists, none of our training or education prepared us for what we would encounter as a family. Our little girls were broken and deeply wounded in ways that, as the years unfolded, we realized we could never fix.Our days started chaotically and ended with them screaming themselves to sleep. We learned there was no treatment for reactive attachment disorder, the label attached to our little girls, so we began to reinvent everything about our lives to meet their needs. Our schedules became structured, even rigid, but this was what they seemed to need to feel secure.Though there were challenges, I never regretted the decision to leave my career for the family.
We finally made a break from suburbia, something my husband and I had always wanted to do, and moved to peaceful Hoosier Valley where we developed our family farm. Farm life and hard work drew us together and helped our struggling, broken children. The daily rhythm of caring for our menagerie of animals seemed to regulate them. There were dogs and cats, chickens, a goat and horses but the horses seemed to help them the most, giving the girls a sense of identity, purpose and increasing their self confidence.
Our first three horses were Morgan horses from Saskatchewan that I intended to train and breed. Included in the group was my dream horse, a young black Morgan stallion we call “Vinnie.” I had never owned or trained a stallion, so I immersed myself in learning Natural Horsemanship, a relationally based training style. Vinnie and I learned and grew together. By the time he was three, we were still pretty inexperienced, but he was making a name for himself as a breeding stallion.
Having horses was a life-long dream for me as I had loved horses as a kid. I was an only child. My parents divorced when I was ten, and my adolescence and early adulthood was turbulent, solace was rare, but I did find it with horses.
January 2005 signaled a shift when the rare pinto Morgan stallion I bought to expand our breeding program turned out to be a lemon. Fancy had been drugged before being transported to our farm, and we woke the next morning to find a wild thing screaming through our pasture. He didn’t trust people and we couldn’t catch him as he lacked the most basic handling skills. The challenge felt beyond me. However, using the skills I had learned with Vinnie, little by little I earned Fancy’s trust.
By summertime, Fancy was transformed from a dangerous animal to a responsive, safe individual. Witnessing the transformation in Fancy inspired us all. I realized that I had a knack for training troubled horses.In the fall, I taught a Natural Horsemanship class for Horse North Rescue. The class was designed to teach women planning to adopt rescue horses how to handle horses with special needs. During the class, I had an epiphany. As we worked with the horses, I found myself teaching concepts I had often addressed in therapy with my clients – things like understanding boundaries, developing clear communication skills, and developing leadership. The women began to apply these concepts to their lives, and they grew personally as a result. For the first time in 10 years, I considered returning to counseling, wondering if anyone else had connected the idea of horses helping humans with their psychological and emotional needs.This idea resonated deeply in my heart. I researched and learned about the rapidly growing fields of equine therapy. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) uses horses as “therapists” for emotional growth and learning. (EAL)Equine Assisted Learning is a form of experiential learning where horses and humans interact with their environment and other people to provide an opportunity for growth and learning. Making the connection between how horses helped in my own chaotic upbringing, my childrens’ pain and brokenness, and even in the women in my class, increased my passion for wanting to offer this unique therapy to others.
We began to liquidate our breeding stock for the development of our “therapeutic herd”. Some came through local rescue organizations; others we purchased at a low price after they suffered some kind of breakdown with failed rehab attempts. My goal was to develop a herd comprised primarily of rehabilitated rescue and throw-away horses. I felt the synergy between using rehabilitated horses and humans in need of rehabilitation would be powerful and effective.In December at the annual Board of Directors meeting for Paraklesis Inc, the 501c3, the nonprofit I formerly practiced under, I presented my vision for an equine assisted therapy program and proposed its development. The proposal was accepted unanimously. I completed several certification programs and became board certified to demonstrate competency in the field of EAP/EAL as a professional.
Since then, the idea of horses helping humans has really caught on in the community. I have had the privilege of designing EAP/EAL programs in collaboration with a number of organizations including Pine Rest, Children’s Advocacy Center, Single Momms and Leelanau Family Court. Soon after I started, people began to hear about what we were doing and wanted to help. Our volunteer force, comprised primarily of professional women, began to form. Eventually, we called our farm PEACE Ranch, descriptive of our surroundings, our vision for horses and humans, and our services: Professional Equine Assisted Counseling and Education. There is no where else I would rather be. I found my niche when I founded PEACE.